Reviewed by: Shawna Ellis
|Featuring:|| Brie Larson … Ma
Jacob Tremblay … Jack
Joan Allen … Nancy
William H. Macy … Robert
Sean Bridgers … Old Nick
Wendy Crewson … Talk Show Hostess
Sandy McMaster … Veteran
Matt Gordon … Doug
Amanda Brugel … Officer Parker
Joe Pingue … Officer Grabowski
Zarrin Darnell-Martin … Attending Doctor
Cas Anvar … Dr. Mittal
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No Trace Camping
“Love knows no boundaries”
“Room” is a challenging film to watch, and also a very difficult film to rate and review. I have been waiting months to see “Room,” since first learning that Emma Donoghue’s riveting novel had been made into a film. The theatrical trailers brought me to tears. Yet, I had to wait until it was released on DVD before seeing it, due to its limited theatrical release. It has received great critical acclaim and awards and is considered by many to be one of the best films of 2015.
Now that I have actually seen “Room,” I have mixed emotions. There is so much that is good about this film, and yet I can’t recommend it without some reservations. It is exceedingly difficult to go into a review of this particular film’s content without giving away spoilers. I will try to avoid that as much as possible and will not give spoilers which were not revealed in the film’s trailers or promotional materials. If you are considering watching “Room” without having seen any previous trailers and want to be surprised by the plot, please skip down to the “ISSUES OF CONCERN” section near the bottom of this review without reading further.
The first thing I want to clarify is that “Room” is not really a film about “the bad guy.” It does not attempt to delve into his psyche or motivation. If you are seeking a horror story, or a morbid look into a sickly depraved mind, this will not satisfy you. I appreciated that there is no backstory or justification given for the wicked actions of Old Nick. Too often in today’s society, the idea of evil is shunned and people search for a “cause” to explain (and even excuse) the depraved actions of sinful man. There is no such cause given here.
To further clarify, this is not really even a film about captivity or isolation… it is ultimately about finding freedom. Although it contains difficult subject matter (see side bar for “Relevant Issues”), it is also a film full of hope. I wish that I could say it was full of the hope of Christ… but that would not be true. Rather, the hope displayed in this movie comes from the human power of love and strength found in family bonds, particularly that of a mother and child. Motherhood is lifted up, but more than that, the life of a child is lifted up and shown as being worthy and purposeful. In that way, this is a very pro-life film, especially considering the background of this particular child. This film alone should give real pause to those who want to say that a child conceived under wrong circumstances should not be given the right to live. It is made obvious from the first line of narration that Jack’s birth was a good and even a redeeming thing in Ma’s life which brought her joy and purpose, when everything seemed lost.
Late in the film, an interviewer asks Ma if Jack’s birth changed her life. Ma looks startled that such a question would need to be asked. She replies lovingly, “It changed EVERYTHING. He was so beautiful.” And so it is when women choose to give life to their children. This is an important issue, and I pray that this film changes minds and hearts about abortion.
If you have heard that this movie is a must-see due to the performances of the actors, I can scarcely argue with that. The acting is superb, and Brie Larson certainly deserves the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, as well as the other acclaim that she has won for her highly emotional portrayal of Ma/Joy.
Jacob Tremblay has shown tremendous talent as a child actor (or an actor of any age). His character, five year old Jack, is in almost every shot of this film (perhaps all). Boldly, the story is told entirely from his perspective. Even with all of that screen time, he is consistently nuanced and believable. I did not find his occasional narration to be irritating or cloying, as some have said. Rather, it sounds like a just-turned-five year old boy who is facing new and confusing things.
Most impressive to me is the combination of these two actors which creates the mother/son relationship between Ma and Jack. There is an intimate familiarity between these characters which seems genuine and unforced. Every glance and word between the two is so entirely believable that they really do seem like a mother and child. Their physical resemblance heightens and solidifies this. The mother/child relationship is at the heart of this movie.
Joan Allen is also to be lauded in her role as Joy’s mother. The source novel portrayed this character as rather shallow and frustrating, but in the film she shines as a voice of love and stability. I remember one reviewer calling her “tender and insightful,” which is absolutely accurate. I have never liked her more in a film than I have in “Room.” I found all of the other characters to be solid and convincing.
One unusual element of “Room” is that the room itself almost qualifies as a character in the film. I was amazed at the care and detail which the filmmakers put into this tiny space! I found myself pausing the movie to study the intricacies of the room and its sparse decorations and furnishings. It looks utterly real, as worn and dingy and lived-in as it should. And yet even with the cramped space and years of accumulated grime, one can also see the comfort and charm it holds for this little boy who considers the room to be the whole world and full of beloved friends like Eggsnake and Plant. Jack’s childish love for Room is apparent, contrasted sharply by Ma’s utter hatred of its confines, even as she tries to make it a safe home for Jack. We spend almost an hour in Room, and yet I could have watched much more of their daily life in that space.
At the same time that I was fascinated by the life they lived in Room, I also found myself desiring to see Ma and Jack in the “real” world. Ma’s growing concern over their future in Room is apparent, and it is here, in these desperate times, that we see what I consider to be the best of Brie Larson’s acting. Her fervent and sacrificial love for Jack (even when she must push him to do hard things) is utterly believable. This is not an idealized picture of motherhood, but it is real with all of its myriad annoyances and frustrations, its joys and its fears.
Much of the latter part of their time in room is very raw and urgent. Ma must be harsh at times, saying, “I’m the Ma. I have to pick for both of us.” How true it is that parents must make difficult decisions which seem unfair to their children, but which are necessary. And how true it is that God does the same for us, and yet we often fail to understand His greater purpose! So often, we can be like little protesting children toward Him when He is only working toward our good as a loving Father.
The transition from “Room” to the world is emotionally draining and charged with tension. From here, I feel that the film loses some of its pacing, but is still believable and interesting, yet I can’t say that it is enjoyable to view. This is because I find it hard to watch as Ma tries to slip immediately back into her old life, but slowly learns that it will not be that easy for her or for her son. This is the “aftermath” of such trauma that we don’t see in news stories.
Cinematically, the film is beautifully made. There are no sweeping vistas or unfocused artsy shots… everything portrayed is real and gritty and close. Nothing is groomed or glossed over in an unrealistic way, which I find refreshing. We see the faces of the characters in unwavering (and even sometimes unflattering) detail. Lighting is used to beautiful effect. The music accentuates the mood (especially in the harrowing transition scenes between Room and the world), but the filmmakers also boldly chose to sometimes use no music at all during key scenes.
“Room” is a well-crafted, amazingly well-acted film, and I found it to be riveting, but also quite draining, due to its unsettling subject matter. This is especially true when one pauses to consider that there are actual people living in similar situations right now. There could be a “Room” in any of our own neighborhoods, as we have seen from shocking news stories in the last several years. The author says that “Room” was not based on any actual specific case. Instead, it explores a “what next” scenario, showing the difficult aftermath of such a situation. Thankfully, this does move on to hope and normalcy, but the road there is difficult to watch, at times.
Language: This film received its R-rating for language. Language is heavy, especially from the harsh mouth of Old Nick. Variations of the f-word are used at least 10 times, a few of these being from Ma in Jack’s presence. There are several instances of misuse of God’s name, and the name of Jesus is used irreverently at least twice. It is a shame that the filmmakers decided to include so much foul language, for (as always) I found that it did not add anything at all to the movie but only decreased its watchability.
Sexuality and Nudity: We see a man clad in shirt and briefs on two occasions. Ma’s clothing in one early scene is rather clinging, but I felt this was not intended for lewd purposes but to accentuate her lack of proper nutrition and access to proper clothing (she does not seem to have a bra in Room). The sounds of non-consensual sexual encounters are heard on two occasions (creaking of a bed and heavy breathing), within earshot of a child. Jack spends several minutes in just a shirt and underwear as a child sometimes will, which is not at all offensive.
Violence: Old Nick is violent and erratic. He attacks a character at one point. A child is handled roughly and is in peril in one dramatic scene. Repeated sexual abuse is implied by storyline and twice by sound, but is not shown visually. There are several verbal confrontations between parents and children.
Spiritual Issues: It is assumed that Ma has given Jack some Biblical teaching, because he references Heaven and Samson (Jack has very long uncut hair which he calls his “strong”). Sadly, the movie deviates from the source material which had Ma praying with Jack daily while in Room, singing hymns, and eventually attending church. The only reference to God in the movie (besides His holy name being misused) was when someone asks Ma if she felt that God had abandoned her. There is no thanks given to God for Ma and Jack’s safety… rather, emphasis is placed on Jack being responsible for saving Ma. Even a scene which was shown in an early trailer in which Ma thanks people for their prayers is not in the final cut of the movie. It was sad to see such a lack of the things of God, especially when the characters are struggling to find peace.
The characters find physical freedom and are learning to find joy in earthly things, but they do not seem to know the true freedom and joy which comes from the love of Christ. This is something that can not be taken away by any human or any circumstance (Romans 8:35-39).
Other: A character gags and some vomit is shown. Vomit is shown in another scene when medications are purposefully misused. A child discovers a traumatic (but not bloody) medical emergency. A character falls into periods of deep depression and non-responsiveness. Alcohol is used by one character. A man unfairly refuses to acknowledge a family member in a dramatic scene. Ma’s mother is living with a man who is not her husband but is called her “friend.”
Of Special Note: This film briefly portrays a breastfeeding relationship which has exceeded the societal norms in our culture (note that it would not be unusual in some other time periods or cultures). This is not done offensively in any way, but is shown so tastefully and discretely that some viewers may not even notice. I found this to be tender and moving… yet another portrayal of this mother’s concern for her child’s emotional and physical well-being in their unusual situation. This was not shocking or negative to me, but I nursed my daughter until she was over two and a half years old and considered those years to be a special time of closeness and comfort for us both.
In closing, I can recommend “Room” as a finely made film with wonderful acting and a thought-provoking storyline. However, it should be viewed with some caution due to language and especially for its troubling subject matter. It is best for mature audiences.
Violence: Moderate to heavy / Profanity: Heavy to extreme / Sex/Nudity: Moderate to heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.